raptors as a resource

CANBY – One of the many highlights at the Yellow Medicine County Fair this past week in Canby was The Raptor Center exhibit.

Established in 1974 as part of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, The Raptor Center (TRC) has developed into an internationally renowned education facility. According to Gail Buhl, education program manager, TRC rehabilitates nearly 800 raptors per year, 50 percent of which are able to be released back into the wild.

“We’ve gotten so good at managing raptors now,” Buhl said. “We’ve gotten to know so much about them.”

Four feathered friends – a bald eagle, a peregrine falcon, an American kestrel and a great horned owl – accompanied Buhl to Canby on Thursday. All of them were female, which are larger than males.

“These birds are permanently injured, so they are used for education,” Buhl said. “We have kind of like a co-worker relationship. We use a treat-reward system. They learn they can earn food treats for their efforts.”

The raptors were out of the sun, up on stage while on display at the Heritage Center at the Canby fairgrounds.

No matter where they travel to, Buhl said she puts the birds just out of reach of on-lookers.

“They’re trained to these perches,” she said. “It takes practice. They like the highest spot in the area. That way they realize they are safe.”

After asking for possible answers, Buhl explained to people in the crowd that raptors have four identifying traits.

“They catch food with their feet, they have really good eye-sight, they eat other animals and they have a beak that is curved and comes to a point,” she said. “Think of it like this: their feet are like a fork and their beak is like a knife.”

Buhl pointed out that each of the raptors present could be found in Minnesota though there are approximately 482 species of raptors world-wide (304 diurnal and 178 nocturnal). All of the raptors face numerous challenges when it comes to survival. Habitat is being plowed up at alarming rates to make room for food, bio fuel crops and urban development, educators said.

According to TRC statistics, nearly 400 raptors have been admitted as patients so far this year. The TRC clinic has 71 patients, including 24 red-tailed hawks, 11 great horned owls, eight bald eagles, eight American kestrels and two peregrine falcons.

Every bird admitted to TRC is carefully inspected and treated, which allows TRC to track potential health problems in the natural world. The research provides clues in regards to the future health of the ecosystems shared by raptors and people. That way it can be protected.

When America adopted the bald eagle as the national symbol in 1782, there were as many as 100,000 nesting eagles. Years later, the population deteriorated significantly because of loss of habitat, shooting and DDT poisoning.

“DDT affected the peregrines and the eagles,” Buhl said. “They were almost all gone by 1962.”

By 1963, less than 500 nesting pairs of bald eagles remained. Bald eagles were on the endangered species list until 2007.

The peregrine falcon along with Buhl was a retired falconry bird.

“Falconry is a sport that hunts with a bird rather than a gun,” Buhl said. “They’re the fastest animal on the planet. They can dive over 200 miles per hour, catching birds right out of the sky.”

Peregrines have very sharp eyesight, which assist them in hunting. Ducks are the largest prey they can pluck from the sky.

Though people could not observe it, the American kestrel with Buhl was blind in its right eye. The kestrel is the smallest falcon found in North America.

TRC has treated more great horned owls than any other bird. A great horned owl, which is the largest of the “tufted owls” in North America, can be found in the clinic year-round.

TRC will be attending the Murray County Fair from 2-7 p.m. on Aug. 14, and will be at the Minnesota State Fair from 3-6 p.m. on Aug. 30 and from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sept. 2.

For more information or if an injured raptor is found, people are encouraged to go to TRC website at: www.theraptorcenter.org. There is an “injured raptor” tab that explains what to do and who to call.